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Why Digital Influencers Are The Worst

Posted on 15-07-2015

It’s a new epidemic sweeping across brands and PR agencies – the undying and unfathomable love for ‘digital influencers’.

I noticed this trend back in 2012 when certain people on my Twitter feed were raving about a new coffee machine they had been sent to try out. Sprawled right across the top of the box was the person’s Twitter handle, and the big bold words “DIGITAL INFLUENCER”. After about a week of listening to these people rave about how the coffee from this machine was literally “the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had in Dubai!!!!”, I wisely unfollowed them.

The notorious rise of the DI is something that is hard to pinpoint. Brands are always on the lookout for cool, hip, and trendy people who can bark about their brand day and night with little to no effort required on their part. Also keep in mind that brands love DIs because there’s practically zero cost involved – wave something free in their faces and chances are they’ll be eating out of your hands. Of course the actual process within dealing with a DI is probably more complicated – meetings, agreements, etc. but we never hear or see any of that. All we see is one person suddenly in love with a particular brand, plastering it across every single platform they’re on.


The endless quest for likes, tweets, instas, and what not is something that won’t leave the digital space any time soon. And our DIs thrive on this – it’s their lifeblood. What’s actually disturbing is just how ineffective these people actually can be at times. Brands and agencies hope that by pairing up with person X, that instantly all of their followers and social fans will jump on the bandwagon and become loyal customers as well. That’s not necessarily untrue – celebs do this all the time, and fans flock to try out new perfumes, clothes, and eateries if it’s anything remotely related to their idol. But for DIs it’s a slightly different prospect – just because someone appears to have a mass following doesn’t necessarily mean they have any real influence over them.  Being popular does not make you an influencer. An influencer would also never refer to themselves as being one either – that would defeat the purpose.

I’ve been tagged as a DI through no fault of my own, so pretty much every month or so I have agencies reaching out to me to pair up with some brand or the other. Here’s one that I got early this year:

I’m emailing you on behalf of ____________, who are launching a new influencer program that we would like for you to be a part of.

As part of the influencer program, you will be amongst a select few regional social media influencers that will have the opportunity to attend local, regional as well as global brand events and you will receive the latest products to use and hopefully integrate into your life. We believe your influence comes from the great content you create and that the credibility of your work depends on honest feedback to your followers and while we are confident our products will have a great added value to your life, we look forward to be hearing your opinion.

What puzzles me the most is that I don’t actually keep track of what my digital footprint/following is. I don’t count my tweets, don’t celebrate when I hit 10k followers, and certainly don’t give away stuff on my Instagram account. And the best part is trying to figure out what ‘great content’ they’re talking about – in the past agencies have said “We love your blog and the content you publish on it” and I think to myself “Are they talking about this blog?” Another great thing I did some time ago was to ‘audit’ a so-called DI, and on their Twitter account alone, over 90% of their followers were fake. What sort of influence are you hoping to get when your primary audience is going to be bots?


Of course the real pickle when dealing with DIs is how agencies and brands voluntarily pay to have these people on board. And let me tell you something – if you see some of the rates these so called DIs charge, you’ll want to quit your job and become a DI too. Almost as demanding as a blagger blogger, DIs can be divas all on their own, often asking for outrageous things just because…well, they can. A typical DI’s day goes something like this:

8:00am Wakes up, Tweets/Instagrams flawless photo #stayinbed #gottawork #blessed

8:05am Scroll through list of notifications, RT all the lovely supportive messages, block trolls

8:10am Tweet to a brand that the online order they made four days ago still hasn’t arrived #deliveryfail #customersupport #shopping #wtf

9:00am “Can’t wait to use my [beauty brand] to fix my looks up before I head out! #facial #skincare

10:00am Breakfast as some hipster cafe, top-down Instagram photo of their breakfast, optional newspaper or magazine nearby to show people they can read. Don’t forget to tag the restaurant!

11:00am Checks email for brand opportunities from PR agencies, replies with “Would love to take part!”

12:00pm Outfit Of The Day post, at least 17 photos taken to choose the best one

You kinda get the idea.

In my opinion, DIs add very little actual value – they make a bit of fuss and noise for a while, but after it dies down there’s no actual way to track if anyone was even listening to them to begin with. Sure you can look at boring numbers like their likes and retweets, but neither of these translate into something a brand would find valuable. The word “influencer” in itself is misleading – in my journeys across the Interwebs I’ve seen plenty of people bark on and on about various brands (and free things), but reading these hardly made me want to jump out of my seat and buy them as well. If brands want to use DIs as a kind of ‘brand megaphone’, then that’s exactly what they’re going to get. When it comes to something of actual value, that’s where the debate begins. What fuels things forward is that no one seems to grasp this point. People put so much of weight and faith in DIs that it goes straight to their heads, and that’s where it needs to stop. There’s nothing more irritating than seeing a post on your timeline that has been carefully crafted to look genuine, but you know is part of some elaborate scheme for a product plug.

Got some examples of truly terrible influencers? Drop a few lines in the comments!

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